11/04/2012 06:03 BST | Updated 11/04/2012 06:34 BST

Scottish Government Panda Advert Banned After Suggesting Bears Were Free Gift

A Scottish Government advert has been banned by the advertising watchdog for suggesting that two pandas sent by China to Edinburgh Zoo were a "gift".

The press advert described the pandas' transfer to Scotland as "a symbolic gesture of friendship between the countries... following five years of political and diplomatic talks."

The poster continued, saying that "the Chinese are gifting two giant pandas to live in Scotland, under the custodianship of Edinburgh Zoo."

Framing the pandas' arrival as in Scotland as "a sign of a strengthened alliance with China" the poster said the "gifting" would help open up new opportunities in trade, culture and education with the world's fastest growing economy."

Bamboozling: The banned poster

Animal Concern and Scotland for Animals complained that the ad misleadingly suggested the pandas were a free gift when they understood that they had been leased to the charity which owned Edinburgh Zoo by China at a substantial cost.

Defending the ad, the Scottish Government said no money was due to be paid by either the UK Government or the Scottish Government to the Chinese authorities for the two pandas, explaining that the charity which owned Edinburgh Zoo would pay an agreed annual sum to the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association that would go directly towards Giant Panda conservation projects in the wild.

However the ASA upheld the complaint, saying: "We considered that consumers would interpret the terms 'gift' and 'gifting' to mean that the pandas were given without payment. Although we acknowledged that the Scottish Government had not made any payment, we considered that the sum paid by the charity that owned Edinburgh Zoo would be considered by consumers to be a commercial arrangement.

"In the absence of text stating that the 'gift' was in exchange for a substantial payment, we considered that the claim 'in a symbolic gesture of friendship between the countries' in conjunction with the terms 'gift' and 'gifting' implied that the pandas were provided by China for free. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading."

It ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form and added: "We told the Scottish Government not to imply in future that the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo were provided without payment."